Staff Picks: Haiku, Hearts, and Homes


This Week’s Reading

The writers featured in Two Lines Press’s Home: New Arabic Poets hail from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere, and all write with one eye turned toward the personal, the everyday, and the other toward the political. The result is unbelievably exciting, the kind of writing that makes you want to sit down at your desk and get to work. From Mohamad Nassereddine’s “Dogs,” translated by Huda Fakhreddine (“I want to write you / a love poem. / I search for language / for a tender word. / But words line up like trained dogs”), to Riyad al-Salih al-Hussein’s “A Marseillaise for the Neutron Age,” translated by Rana Issa and Suneela Mubayi (“We live in the neutron age / The age of quick kisses in the streets / And being utterly vanquished in the streets”), these are poems to read and reread, repeating the lines as though they were a secret between yourself and the page. —Rhian Sasseen 

In the director Merawi Gerima’s debut feature, Residue, the anticipated anxieties of returning to one’s childhood home are pushed aside by a neighborhood made unrecognizable. Jay, the movie’s protagonist, is a filmmaker who is trying to write about home. But when he finds himself back in D.C., he discovers that he’s not the only one who has changed. Of all the things he felt unsure about, his neighborhood he expected to be the same. Jay attempts to reconcile his memories of home with the disorientation of a newly gentrified reality, the seemingly hostile takeover. The film is quiet, reserved, as if it knows better than to give too much. I can’t help but compare it with Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco; both movies are about gentrification, community, and Blackness, but each is distinct. Less romantic than The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Residue asks essential questions about ownership and belonging. If you were the one who left, can you still be betrayed by the loss? —Langa Chinyoka


Laura Marling. Photo: Justin Tyler Close. Courtesy of Partisan Records.


Yet another musical train I am late to board is the one driven by the British singer and songwriter Laura Marling. People hipper than I am knew about her years ago, but I received her excellent seventh album, Song for Our Daughter, from my LP-of-the-month club, and I am just blown away. Marling is at least the second musician I have compared to Joni Mitchell (who is the keeper of, to paraphrase the poet James Richardson, the heart beneath my heart) in a staff pick, and she seems to be directly channeling the utterly exposed confessional lyricism and even the emotional aura of Joni’s music. On “Alexandra,” Marling sounds more like Ladies of the Canyon–era Joni than any artist I can think of, and that’s a really good thing. The songs are subtle and airy, full of soaring and plummeting melodies, and motored by delicious, clever percussion that takes up quiet residence in one’s hips, especially the danceable “Strange Girl.” The title track is a wary and hopeful ballad that will make any parent of a daughter—as well as any daughter—feel less alone. In this era of info flooding in through multiple inputs at once at all times, I’m grateful that people are still writing songs like this. —Craig Morgan Teicher

Natalia Ginzburg’s newly translated set of novellas, Valentino and Sagittarius, grapples with the struggles of having a difficult family and what loving them looks like in spite of their rudeness, idleness, or judgmental disposition. Imperfect marriages, bouts of fury, and superficiality never take away from the essential tenderheartedness of Ginzburg’s characters. In arguing for the necessary coexistence of our deepest humanity and our deepest flaws, these novellas gave me a renewed appreciation for those loved ones who are stuck with me throughout this pandemic. —Carlos Zayas-Pons

Most evenings around ten, when the work (or at least that day’s allotment of it) is done and the supper dishes are clean, I give myself an hour of free reading. It’s a category that might’ve previously been called pleasure reading, but given that this week I’ve been toggling between dystopias (Diane Cook’s disturbing, compelling The New Wilderness and the New York Times’s coronavirus coverage), the emotion is not quite delight. However, I have been pleased to recently encounter several intersections of bummer news and bright art. The Chronicles of Now may have been conceived before the news cycle became the raging dumpster fire we call 2020, but its model—short stories inspired by the news—is perhaps better suited than a CNN pundit is to helping us sort through this year. Meanwhile, the writer Etgar Keret and the choreographer Inbal Pinto have taken the cable news talking head and made it new: the dance between the isolated broadcaster and the equally lonely (and commendably loose-limbed) protagonist of the short film Outside is a canny response to the emotional landscape wrought by quarantine. And just in case we thought we were being novel in making art from news, I was glad to be reminded that Félix Fénéon was doing this 114 years ago in the Paris daily Le Matin: his collected Novels in Three Lines (translated and introduced by Luc Sante) demonstrates the artful possibility of the news with the economy of a haiku. Things might be bleak out there, but sometimes, they can also be beautiful. —Emily Nemens


Félix Fénéon. Photo: Alphonse Bertillon. Public domain, via the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.